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Wednesday, 22 June 2005
Page: 75

Mr SECKER (2:18 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on how government policies have contributed to the development and growth of the Australian aviation industry? What further challenges does this industry face?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I am delighted to be able to report to the House that there is very clear evidence that the government’s aviation policies are working. There is strong growth in both the domestic aviation sector and the international aviation market. The combined domestic and regional aviation industry is operating now at record high levels, with almost 38 million passengers carried during the year ended December 2004. That was an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year. At the same time, passenger traffic on Australian international flights has also grown very strongly.

Over the 12 months to December 2004, we saw a record high of 1.93 million passengers internationally—an increase of nearly 10 per cent on December 2003. International activity reached a record high of 10,000 flights in December 2004, which was 16 per cent higher than December 2003 and 48.4 per cent higher than the low recorded in June 2003 when activity was negatively impacted by SARS.

The figures are very buoyant and very encouraging. They come off the back of the sharp downturn of two or three years ago, which no-one could have foreseen; but, nonetheless, they are remarkable figures. It is worth bearing in mind—and we must never forget it—that the aviation industry operates in a very volatile climate. It is particularly susceptible to sudden shocks. Unfortunately, the international aviation industry is highly corrupted with many airlines enjoying not only natural geographic advantages over us—that is all strength to their right arm—but also the protection of government ownership and support, which we no longer supply and should no longer supply in Australia.

I make the point that, while the airlines themselves have to do everything they can to be internationally competitive—and we encourage them in that—there is also a vital need for international reform. There are too many airlines internationally because there are too many governments that prevent sensible rationalisation—a point well made by Rod Eddington recently. He is a well-known and respected Australian who headed up BA for a long time. Unfortunately, our carriers still face unreasonable restrictions on access to other countries. For example, in my view there are still unrealistic and unfair limitations on our access to the important UK market.

On the domestic front, it is worth making the point that there are those opposite who would still want to saddle the aviation industry in Australia with the cost of a white elephant—namely, a second airport in Sydney.

Mr Murphy —Nonsense!

Mr ANDERSON —Nonsense. He wants a second airport but cannot justify it. I think it would, by demonstrable indicators, be a white elephant that would cost the aviation industry a lot of money. The fact is that total passenger numbers at Sydney airport have more than recovered, but the number of actual aircraft movements is significantly lower than it was back in 2000.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ANDERSON —A lot of policy thought has gone into this by those opposite. You can tell that. They are all over the place. There is a certain sense of aircraft drift here, aviation drift. What has happened is that there has been a rapid move to having fewer aircraft carrying more people—more rapid than anyone might reasonably have foreseen. Indeed, it is worth making the point that the Sydney airport master plan, approved last year, indicated that the airport would be able to cope with Sydney’s air traffic needs for at least 20 years. I think that is a very good outcome indeed. Accordingly, I say to the House that the government has formed the view that a second Sydney airport will not be needed in the foreseeable future and, consequently, the government has no plans to impose a white elephant on the aviation industry in Australia.